What a Teenager Taught Me About Vaping

My Niece Bridget (who I’m super proud of), is 16 and came for a visit this summer. As we caught up she was telling me about her work with STASHA in Clark County, WA. STASHA stands for Strong Teens Against Substance Hazards & Abuse, and according to the Clark County website is “​a non-judgmental group made up of youth ages 12-19. The youth work to prevent substance abuse among their peers and within their community using their own words and in their own way. The young people in this program seek to represent the diverse geographic regions and populations of the county. This group is comprised of youth who have never used drugs and alcohol, youth with past experimentation/use, and youth who have completed treatment and are now in recovery”.

She then proceeded to provide me some much-needed education on the world of vaping. I had no idea this was such the “it” thing among teenagers despite the health implications and the fact it’s illegal for people under the age of 18. Nevertheless, according to the CDC ​in 2016, more than 2 million U.S. middle and high school students had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days, including 4.3% of middle school students and 11.3% of high school students. In comparison it was estimated that 3.2% of U.S. adults were current e-cigarette users in 2016. So, I thought perhaps there’s a gap in knowledge greater than my own on this topic and asked her to share this info as a guest blogger. Below is her contribution.

Photo by Sebastian Rojas-Rincon

Many adults see the use of e-cigarettes, as helpful when it comes to the abstaining and/or weaning from traditional cigarettes. Whereas, teenagers use e-cigarettes because of the “cool factor”, peer pressure, or simple rebellion. E-cigarettes are commonly mistaken for a less addictive and less harmful alternative because they don’t contain tobacco. However, studies have shown that this is not the case. In fact, e-cigarettes AKA Vaping or JUULing actually poses a triple threat - addictive properties, toxic excretions, and enticing advertising!

The e-cigarettes have cartridges which contain coils that hold cotton that’s drenched in the flavored liquid nicotine (the flavors of which are infinite and appealing). When these coils are heated up they vaporize the solution releasing aerosolized toxic metals! What does this do to your health? Well, according to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Significant numbers of the devices generated aerosols with potentially unsafe levels of lead, chromium, manganese and/or nickel. Chronic inhalation of these metals has been linked to lung, liver, immune, cardiovascular and brain damage, and even cancers.” ​And, in 2016, the U.S. Surgeon General claimed that vaping is a major health concern. ​That’s not all, vaping while pregnant can cause birth defects and you could be endangering those around you with second-hand vapors too.

Although tobacco is not an ingredient in e-cigarettes the threat of addiction still exists with the nicotine. You do however have the ability to increase, decrease, or eliminate the amount of nicotine you are ingesting through the brand of e-juice or the amount of mg/ml of nicotine you include in the device. However, this is a slippery slope so approach with caution. For example, if you increase the amount of nicotine to 12 nic you will be receiving nicotine in an amount that’s equivalent to 1.8 cigarettes! This flexibility may be empowering to some, but for others have catastrophic consequences to their health. Also, if you’re using a brand of e-juice with nicotine you’re increasing the likelihood of addiction making it hard to quit when and if you decide to. Moreover, e-cigarettes are not an approved smoking cessation aid, and there is no conclusive scientific evidence that they’re effective for long-term smoking cessation.

Personally, being in high school specifically makes the temptation to vape or use e-cigarettes especially challenging for a lot of people. I know many people in all grades that I know either have or are currently using e-cigarettes. The cause behind them wanting to smoke stems from a more emotional background not necessarily the desire to quit smoking cigarettes. Some are angry at their parents or other family or at their friends. Peer pressure to be involved in the newest “cool” plays a huge factor as well. What I try to do as a peer educator is be a friend to people who are struggling or who don't know how harmful it can really be. I try to live each day as a role model and part of that is by encouraging other activities or events and trying to help people reap the benefits from them. Everyone struggles with hardship and making decisions whether it involves family or the peers around us and in high school everyone has experienced or is currently experiencing peer pressure, but what matters is turning that negative pressure into positive encouragement and doing so in a non-judgmental or dictating way.

Parents, not sure how to talk to you kids? Check out this tip sheet:

Are you wondering how to quit your e-cigarette habit or simply you want to learn more. Check out the resources below: